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Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Reason Why – 11.05.11

People ask me a lot why I chose to be Jewish and why I choose to live in Israel. I don’t mind the questions, and I really do try each time to answer honestly, but I have to admit, the whole inquiry seems a bit silly to me. Like asking someone, “why do you like sunshine?” or maybe “why do you keep your hair brown?” or even “so why do you like chocolate?” The answers to these questions are mostly “givens,” right? I like the sun because it is keeps me alive and feels nice. I like my hair the color it is, because, well, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I like chocolate because it makes me happy. I could have replaced “Judaism” into any of these answers. I like being Jewish. I like the Jewish people. I like Israel. It feels nice and like home to me. I realize others view my choice to be here as different, but it just is. Not all things in life really need to be explained, do they?

But I guess that’s not a really good answer. In addition to people asking me about why I’m Jewish and why I live in Israel, the Jewish Agency would also like to know. In fact, they recently asked me to write a letter explaining (in detail) exactly why I want to be where I am and how I am. Isn’t this an interesting concept? If someone asked you to explain why you are the way you are and why you live where you live, what would you say?? Would you have a good answer, or would you find the inquiry challenging? I was happy to write my answers to the Jewish Agency, but as with the inquiries from individuals, I felt a bit baited. People tend to believe that life in Israel is more difficult than that in America and that being Jewish is (in some ways) a burden in addition to being a blessing. I honestly do understand this opinion. Everything from the buses to the phone company to the university to the politics takes extra patience in Israel. However, for me, I simply need to try my hardest to be here in order to be true to myself.

Perhaps an example will help. Right out of college I got my first professional job working at a university. It was a pretty easy job at a nice, small, private university in southern California. The people were very nice and happy. The biggest problem I had was that of “helicopter parents” – those who called every day to make sure their student got the best room, the best roommates, and the perfect meal plan.

After I finished my master’s, I accepted a job at a community college and moved to a rural (and very poor) county in northern California. My eyes were opened like never before. I had homeless students, mentally ill students, and brilliant 18-year old students all together in the same class. One day a “star” student came to me after being beaten senseless by her boyfriend. I talked to her and tried to get her help, and when she left my office I quietly closed my door and sobbed. I caught students doing crystal meth, and I saw students receive full athletic scholarships. My time there completely changed me, and in many ways the work was so much more difficult than the quiet private university. However, that college was exactly where I needed to be. After working there, I knew I would not ever be able to return to the helicopter parents. That first year, I remember praying that even one parent would call in concern of their child, but they never did. So I’ve spent the last 5 years building my career and writing my dissertation around community college students – my students, and I plan to continue that work in some capacity as long as I live. They will always be part of me.

In just the same way, Judaism and Israel are part of me. Once I came to know them, I was changed in such a profound way that I can never go back. So I became Jewish in order to be true to myself, and now I came to Israel in order to be part of the Jewish people. It is hard. I don’t have a “real” job or a resident visa. Living here takes perspective, trust, and hope. I am practicing that each day. I just signed a lease on an apartment for a year and I’m applying for post-doctoral fellowships here. I’m building a life, and I’ve got to tell you, it feels as warm as sunshine, as natural as the color of my hair, and as easy to love as chocolate.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Chicken Time List - 10.17.11

Last week I celebrated the one-year anniversary of my conversion to Judaism. In true Israeli fashion, the week did not disappoint – I attended a concert, met new friends, ate delicious food, and enjoyed many celebratory drinks and several nights ending after 3am. I thought about writing a sentimental post about my conversion, about what it means to me to be Jewish, and about why I keep choosing to be in Israel; but I think I’ve been sentimental enough in recent posts.

Instead, I have compiled (for your enjoyment) a list of 10 ridiculous and otherwise silly Israeli moments. Most of them occur because of my complete inability to speak the Hebrew language in a comprehensible manner. There are so many of these moments that I try to keep track of them in a small green notebook I carry around with me everywhere I go. The list is affectionately called “The Chicken Time List” and you will find out why if you read all the way down to #1. Some of these moments are mine, and some belong to friends. In fact, some of my friends have their own dedicated page in “The Chicken Time List” because their lives here tend to be so outrageous.

There is truly never a dull moment here. Sometimes the moments are embarrassing, or funny, or even frustrating, but never dull!

(And sorry to my family who has already heard most of these!)

10. A friend wanted to know if a restaurant had any grapes. Instead he asked, “Are there any rocks here?”

9. I often mix up the words for “hour” (sha-ah) and “year” (shanah). I say great things like: “I worked on my doctorate for 4 hours,” and “I lived in California for 9 hours,” and “I came to Israel almost 3 hours ago for the first time.”

8. Instead of asking about someone’s family (mishpacha), I kept asking about their kitchen (meetbach). “So, do you have a big kitchen?” “How many people are in your kitchen?” “Do you like your kitchen?” They were very confused at first.

7. At a restaurant I very confidently asked my friend, in front of the waiter, if he wanted to order someone (mishahoo). I, of course, meant to ask if he wanted to order something (mashahoo).

6. In a serious discussion about prisons in Israel I repeatedly referred to the prison (cavah) as a dog (kelev). "So, how many people lived in the dog?" "Was it a dog for bad people?" "Who worked in the dog?"

5. I was really lost in Haifa at night with my friend when I saw two men walking down the street. I wanted to ask them for directions so I enthusiastically rolled down my car window and yelled "Excuse me, miss!"

4. At SuperPharm (like Walgreens) with my friend buying contacts, we proudly determined that one box was for the left eye and one was for the right eye. Later we found out they were monthly and daily lenses.

3. During class, my Hebrew teacher asked a student (in Hebrew, of course) what color his shirt was. He quickly answered, "Cat!" but his shirt was plain blue.

She asked the next student, who said “white!” but his shirt was also just blue.

She gave up and asked us to turn to a new assignment in our textbook.

2. I went into a store and said to the clerk “I need to help you!” instead of saying “I would like some help!” I really did not understand the look on her face and why she kept saying “why?” Duh…“because I really need to help you!” I kept saying.

1. Repeatedly yelling, “chicken time!” instead of “never!” (Slight difference between of and af in Hebrew). Finally someone asked me why I was talking about chickens and I realized my error.

As a final note, I promise that my Hebrew is getting better. Some evidence: last week at a bar two men started talking about me in Hebrew thinking that I did not understand. They didn’t say anything bad, but were just trying to find out how old I was, etc. I turned and said in Hebrew to one of them “I understand what you’re saying!” Their look of surprise was excellent. Almost starts to make up for all those chicken time moments…almost... :)

Monday, October 10, 2011

My Partner in Good - 10.10.11

The High Holidays in Judaism are in full swing. First was Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur, and Sukkot begins this week. Rosh Hashanah – the start of the New Year – began just a couple days before what we otherwise know as October 1st. I took the opportunity (a new year and a time for reflection) to start a little project I’ve been thinking about.

This idea all starts with my family. Even though I tend to think of myself as very “different” from my extended family, each day I seem to learn I am more similar to them than I thought. Apparently my grandmother also rode a camel (in Israel) years ago! But the connections are, obviously, deeper than that. One of the most resonating similarities I continue to see is the desire to give. My parents should receive some sort of award for good-doers. Growing up we were always putting some kind of positive energy into the world – volunteering at the homeless shelter on Thanksgiving, choosing where to donate the family tithe, buying goats or bees for families through Heifer international (it took a long time to explain to me as a child that buying bees for someone was a NICE thing), the list goes on. Even today, my mother spends her days working with special needs high school students and her nights working at a group home for adults, and my father runs a charter school system for troubled youth living in residential facilities. I am so grateful to learn from their positive examples.

I am also fortunate enough to have gotten even a small dose of the giving gene. I, too, have spent endless hours making sandwiches at Glide Memorial shelter, sorting food at the SF Food Bank, making safe sex kits for the SF AIDS Foundation, painting murals for the Salvation Army (see photo above!), pulling weeds at the SF Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park…my list goes on and on, too.

I also think it’s important to donate monetarily. Even a few dollars can go a long way at a well-run non-profit. I have my “standard” organizations I donate to – my synagogue, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the library, and so on. But I’ve decided that on the first day of each month for the next year I will donate a minimum of a dollar a day to a different organization each month.

But who likes to give alone? I sent a quick message to one of my very good friends and asked a simple question: “Will you be my partner in good?”

I feel like in this life I’ve got partners in fun and in “crime,” but the older I get I am realizing just how important it is for me to have friends who support my deep lineage of giving - friends who might spend a Sunday afternoon reading to kids, participate in a protest against inadequate pay for Mercado workers, or give a small amount each month to support a non-profit organization.

This month, I chose an organization one of my former students was raising money for. I was so touched by this student’s efforts to save an institution (on the brink of closure), and I’m sure they appreciated the two anonymous donations that went towards their personal fundraising goal.

I know that I have appreciated those who have taken the time to give to my own fundraising appeals, and have seen firsthand the positive ripples those acts of kindness have had in my life. This new year, I am going to try to keep giving at the forefront of my intentions and actions. And I’m glad I have my partner in good along for the journey.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It Takes a Village… 10.06.11

Finally, I’ve had a bit of luck with the Jewish Agency. I officially have a file open to apply for aliyah – that’s right friends, with any amount of luck or fortune or prayer I may end up an Israeli citizen yet. :)

For the last two days I’ve been locked in my apartment trying to “prove” my Jewishness. What a silly thing to do. In case you were wondering, in the last two years I have read 17 Jewish books, I’ve spent 4 months in ulpan (in Israel!), I’ve traveled to Israel 3 times, I’ve attended 5 passover seders (and made two of the most delicious matzah lasagnas you ever tasted!), visited many of the world’s top Jewish museums (Museum of Tolerance - LA, Holocaust Memorial Museum - DC, Yad Vashem – Jerusalem, Jewish Heritage Museum - NY, Contemporary Jewish Museum - SF), I’ve been to 5 Jewish film screenings, participated in one 9-month long Jewish fellowship, served as a counselor at Jewish camp for 4th and 5th graders, and have spent more hours in synagogue than I could possibly begin to count. And that’s only the beginning of the list! The Jewish Agency may be sorry they ever asked me for a list of my “Jewish activities.”

For me, the issue is especially sensitive these last couple of weeks. I cannot help but feel rejected. First by Israel, a place I am so magnetized to, and then in those brief fleeting moments – a new man I’m dating breaks it off because “I’m not Jewish enough,” a new acquaintance refuses to believe I’m Jewish until I admit that I converted. These little rejections, piled one on top of the other, hurt.

So I’ll admit it, I’ve been moping. Moping around my new apartment (which I share with a very large family of lizards, if you haven’t heard).

But (there’s always a but with me, isn’t there??), this is still a great week for me. Aside from riding a camel (have you seen the pictures?!), this week I will celebrate the one-year anniversary of my conversion to Judaism. I will never forget that day. First there was the long and confident look in the mirror before the blessings and the mikvah, and soon after there was the day I filled the whole front pew of my synagogue with my family and friends – from Texas, from Los Angeles, from Israel - all there to celebrate my choice to be Jewish. As I held the torah and then stood in front of the congregation to explain to everyone present why I chose Judaism, I couldn’t help the tears from filling my eyes. Never have I been so humbled. Good thing everyone else was crying, too!! :)

A couple days ago, while talking to a surprisingly nice man from the Jewish Agency, he explained in detail the many, many papers and forms I would need in order to be considered for aliyah. He said at one point, “will your family be helping you get these?” My answer was “of course.” “But,” he said slowly, “they’re not Jewish...”

I may have had to prove my Judaism to countless people – to the state of Israel, the Jewish Agency, the men I’ve dated, and to acquaintances; but thankfully, I’ve never had to defend myself to my immediate family. I am enormously grateful that they accept and respect me exactly the way I am.

I’ve spent the past two days emailing my Rabbi, my friends, my family, and my teachers – the ones who invited me over for Channukah, and Passover, and the High Holidays; who studied with me all year during my Jeremiah Fellowship; who encouraged me and told me again and again that I belonged; that spoke broken Hebrew to me; and the ones who laughed and cried at my conversion ceremony last year. I realized, once again, that as with all things in life, it really does take a village. It takes a village of people, full of love and support, to help us realize who we are.

I know, without a doubt, that I am Jewish.

Have you thought lately about who you are?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fight - 09.14.11

I had a fight with Israel yesterday. Just a little fight, but I guess I got my feelings hurt. I had to go (for the 4th time) to the Misrad Hapanim (Office of the Interior) regarding my visa.

I tried to have a good attitude. I woke up early and packed snacks and water and my fully-charged ipod. Then I walked in the heat of the early morning sun, took a bus, caught a train, and stood in the line for security. After a short conversation in Hebrew (“No, I don’t have any weapons”), a thorough search of my bag (“No, I really don’t have any weapons”), and a compliment on the color of my eyes from the handsome young guard (“Thank you and have a good day”), my hour-long journey both ended and began again.

Once inside, I patiently took my number and although I arrived just 16 minutes after the office opened, waited for nearly an hour and a half to be called. When my turn came, I explained as simply as possible that I do not want to leave Israel. I tried to say in a casual and even tone the deepest desire of my heart. I felt vulnerable as I explained to a stranger, in a loud, crowded room, full of the sounds of babies laughing and crying, phone calls and conversations in Hebrew, English, Russian, and a handful of other languages, through a glass window, what I really feel and want in life: that I love Israel very much and want to live here, work here, and make this country my home.

The clerk – a tired lady with a big cup of coffee in one hand, ignored my vulnerability and deep dark confession, and simply asked if I was Jewish.

“Yes,” I answered. “But...”

There is always a “but” when I answer this question, and the layers of my story begin to unfold, despite the rush of the room all around me. I take a deep breath and find a little strength and describe in detail the history of my experience with Israel and Judaism. Finally I get to the main point:

“I converted to Judaism, last October. “

I tell her that I know despite my year of study, my 4 trips to Israel, my endless Hebrew classes, and my own personal desire, that I am not eligible to make aliyah.

“I don’t care about any of the benefits, I just want to stay here.”

The clerk shakes her head and explains what I need to do. She is the 4th person to explain this to me, and like the last, her version is slightly different. I need more papers, I need the originals, I need to send them all to America, and then – only then – if I am truly deemed to be Jewish, can I come back to this miserable office devoid of all the magic that I feel when I am in Israel and do what I do not want to do – try again.

I sigh. I give up a little.

“Can you please extend my tourist visa instead?”

After another hour, 8 passport photos, more security and lines, and 200 sheklim, I can stay in Israel for another 3 months. I look at my passport with its pretty new sticker and read the words “NOT PERMITTED TO WORK.”

As I leave the office and begin my journey back to the train, I feel sad and a little bit angry with Israel. I feel poignantly bothered by the inability of bureaucracy to understand fate. I yell a little bit in my head to Israel:

“Why are you making this so difficult?!?” “Why don’t you want me to be here??” “Am I not supposed to stay?” “What am I doing WRONG?!?!”

The doubt creeps in and each moment makes me angrier. I am mad at the loud hot train with no seats, I am frustrated with the stupid ticket machine which jams my ticket, I am so mad that there are no buses when I arrive. I storm down the street in the hot September air and by the time I meet my friend for brunch I am angry with Israel. We are in a full-on fight.

I slump into a chair and exclaim “I am cranky-pants.” She laughs and then patiently listens to me vent. As we cool off on the wide, white restaurant patio our waitress brings us giant cups of coffee (I swear, the coffee has cocaine or magic or happiness in it here) followed by an enormous Israeli breakfast of shakshuka (egg-tomato-cheesy goodness sent straight from Heaven), fresh warm wheat bread, Israeli salad, and tahina. As I stuff myself silly in the cool patio shade I feel my anger slip away with each bite of tasty goodness and every sip of caffeinated delight. I think about the day to come – the time with an old friend in town visiting, a trip to a museum, a visit to my new apartment, meeting up with more friends in the evening - and I am defenseless against my happiness.

I quickly apologize to Israel in my head, and say my favorite blessing of gratitude in Hebrew.

“Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Who has bestowed great goodness on me.”

I mean each word. Real friends, amazing food, the history of this country, museums and beaches, beautiful weather and land, perhaps most of all the feeling of hope that rises in each moment of despair – that essence of redemption…these are the reasons I love, and have loved, and will keep loving, Israel. These are the reasons I will keep trying to stay.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Miss – 09.05.11

I keep waiting, with an air of nervous expectation, to miss my life. I have this occasional obnoxious nagging fear that one day soon I am going to wake up in a panic and realize that I have quit my job, sold all of my belongings, and left 10 years worth of friends and memories in California. In my worst-case scenario I wake up to realize that I’ve made a terrible mistake - I’m alone in a strange country where I don’t speak the language and where I have no family; the total sum of my existence stored in a few boxes in Texas.

The strange thing is that I’ve been in Israel for nearly 3 months, and not once has that feeling washed over me. Not once have I woken up in a panic, and not once have I felt alone or without a family. Instead, I wake up feeling happier than I can ever remember. With no stress or lingering dissertation, I find that my leg and back (having suffered 8 surgeries) have never felt better. I often find myself dancing with friends in the early hours of the morning, hiking in the nearby mountains, or going for a midnight swim in the warm Mediterranean waters, just because I can.

When I took this trip I told my dad that I realized the risk I was taking. I told him that I might be making the biggest (not to mention the most expensive) mistake of my life. But I also told him that it would be a wonderful mistake – perhaps the best of my life.

So far, this has been my favorite “mistake” of all. I may be unemployed, but I have never been happier, never more at peace. For the first time in my life, that nagging voice that continually and discontentedly whispers in my ear “keep moving” is quiet. Breaking apart my life as I knew it – leaving the comforts of my city and job and friends and furniture (and shoes!) - was difficult; but this life I get instead is completely worth the exchange.

Perhaps the most tangible example of my contentedness: For the last year in San Francisco I slept on an air mattress (aka “camp Liz” for those of you who remember) – surely some sort of sign projected from my subconscious that I could not commit to staying in one place; that even while living in San Francisco I was just waiting for something better. I’ve been in Israel for less than 3 months, but I’ve just signed a 2-month lease on an apartment with the option to extend for a year, and I’m looking to buy a bed.

I think it's time I let go of the fear of missing my former life, and embrace this current one just as it is.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Home is Where the Mezuzah Is - 07.15.11

Judaism has a wonderful tradition where Jews affix a mezuzah to door frames within their home (generally all main doors except for the bathroom). If I am interpreting correctly, mezuzot are actually the special pieces of parchment (made from a kosher animal) which have the Shema hand-written on them by a sofer or soferet (Torah scribe). These kosher mezuzot are then rolled (in a specific manner) and stored inside a small rectangular case (what is often referred to as the mezuzah). I hope I got all that right :)

Since my decision to convert to Judaism, I have begun to think about my own collection of Judaica. Items like Shabbat candlestick holders, a menorah / chanukia, and a mezuzah are all items I have looked forward to collecting and using. Most recently, I have been on a quest for a mezuzah. As someone who moves a lot, and is often a bit confused about where “home” is, I love the idea of taking my mezuzah to each new apartment and house with me – I want it to be the first thing to go up and the last to come down.

Today I spent a lovely and full day in Jerusalem and found myself with a little bit of free time at the end of the day to do some shopping in the Jewish Quarter. Since it is a Friday (and thus Shabbat was about to start) the narrow alleys and usually crowded stores were surprisingly empty and peaceful. As I have been doing for over a year, I looked at all kinds of mezuzah covers - shiny, colorful, antique and metallic - yet nothing spoke to me. Then, on the very bottom shelf of a lovely store advertising hand-made Judaica, I came across the most beautiful mezuzot I have ever seen. The storekeeper informed me that they were hand-carved out of Jerusalem stone, and I immediately spotted and picked up my mezuzah case.

It is incredibly beautiful and unique. The purchase of my mezuzah and case is made a bit sweeter by the fact that yesterday I went to Tel Aviv and signed an agreement to sub-let an absolutely amazing apartment near the university for the months of August and September. For the first time, I really feel like I will be living in Israel. In August, before I unpack a thing, I will say the special blessing and affix my mezuzah to the door of my new “temporary” home. For me personally, the mezuzah has a special meaning - the special scroll inside contains the Shema, the same words I recited out loud in front of my congregation, family, and friends during my conversion ceremony, which are the same words that have been echoed by the Jewish people for ages.

In the midst of my chaotic life, I have often pondered the phrase “home is where the heart is.” If that is true, my home is in Texas with my baby brother, San Francisco with my friends, Minnesota with my college buddies, and a dozen other places. Just the thought of such division makes me feel scattered! But I think for me, home is truly where the mezuzah is. My mezuzah stands as a reminder of who I am, what I love, and all the people that love and support me – just as I am. Each time I enter my home (wherever it may be) and touch my mezuzah, and then bring my hand to my lips, I know that no matter how many times I move, grow, or change, I am always able to take my religion, relationships, and identity with me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Home, and Nature – 07.04.11

Today I once again trekked from Tel Aviv to Haifa on the train (the third time this week) and moved into my room at Haifa University. I love it here. I bumped into several people I know, including someone from San Francisco who told me I looked very “zen,” and then I made a new friend and traveled (quite effortlessly) to the grocery store, the shuk (local market), and closed my evening with a lovely hike. There is no logical reason for this city to feel like home to me, for me to be able to find a store that I shopped in one time over a year ago with simplicity. And yet, as it goes with Israel, I find myself hopping on buses all over town, reading the labels in Hebrew to find the best deal on laundry detergent, and arguing at the shuk to be able to buy only two onions. I love this crazy place that does not make me feel afraid with it’s fast buses and new faces and loud feral cats, but instead makes me feel at home and safe and alive.

Well, except for the cockroaches. Holy wow they are big and scary. I bonded with my new roommate this evening when after my hike I turned on the water to take a shower and the largest cockroach I have ever seen appeared from nowhere (and I saw some big ones growing up in Texas!). After confirming that he could not, in fact, survive the swim the shower was providing him, I ran to the living room where my roommate (aka savior) killed and removed the beast from my shower. I opted to wear shoes in the shower (and will from now on) and am happy to report that the rest of the evening has progressed quite lovely.

Bitter Sweet – 06.30.11

For nearly all of the days since I arrived in Israel, I have found myself saying to myself at the end of the day, “what a great day.” I’ve gone to the beach, met up with old friends, gone to stylish and delicious bars and restaurants – all the things a vacation should be. Today was no exception. I woke up at a friends house in Gilon (a small town in northern Israel) and after a delicious breakfast (Israeli cottage cheese is life changing!), made my way to Akko, then to Haifa, and finally to Tel Aviv. Instead of going straight to my room, I decided last-minute to go to a museum at the University of Tel Aviv campus. I really didn’t know where I was going, but I’ve learned enough Hebrew and enough about the trains and buses to figure it out. I arrived on campus, found the museum easily, bought my entry ticket, and decided to grab a cup of coffee before I went inside.

Sitting in the Aroma café (somewhat equivalent to Starbucks…only better!) overlooking campus, indulging in a warm chocolate croissant and frozen chocolaty coffee creation while reading my latest book I was first overcome with happiness, and then sorrow. Sorrow to the point that tears threatened to slip from my eyes in the middle of the cool and comforting air-conditioned restaurant.

It is always this way with me – the sorrow never leaves the happiness. This may sound strange, but today the sorrow was for my students. I am so grateful to be on this journey of a lifetime. Just two weeks ago I became a doctor, quit my job, left my apartment, stored my belongings in Texas, and left for the first leg of my trip – five months in Israel and France. I am proud of my bold decision to travel, and the planning and saving it took to pull it off. And yet today I could not help but think about my students. The ones that kept me going (with a smile) on all of those dreadfully bureaucratic days. The college students I’ve worked with over the past nine years have inspired me with their tenacity and intellect. The former inmates and foster youth, the single moms, the young and idealistic, the undocumented – so many of who may never have the opportunity to sit in a café in a country of their choosing and read a book for an hour in the cool A/C although they are exceptionally deserving. I was a bit overcome by my privilege and it’s inherent contrast, as I often am.

I know that after this year, I will go back to education and use all the skills I have learned to be a better educator and stronger, wiser, and more balanced person. Perhaps when you love what you do – when you are what you do - you carry it with you; on vacation, in cafes, and in both moments of happiness and sorrow.

Shabbat Prophecy – 07.01.11

Shabbat Shalom! When my Rabbi asked me during my “Introduction to Judaism – Part Two” class what my favorite holiday was, I quickly answered “shabbat.” The only Jewish holiday we get to celebrate each week, I look forward to the chance to rest, reflect, and share the day with others. Today I was blessed to share Shabbat with a friend of mine – from San Francisco!

I was a little proud of myself as I hopped onto the #4 sherut (Israeli shared taxi) and found my friend’s hotel with ease. We had an absolutely lovely dinner with her cousins, and I was again blessed to be invited into the extended family of a friend. People always ask me if I have family in Israel, and the answer is always, thankfully, yes. They may not be biological, but I have always, always had family here. I think, in fact, that it was family that brought me here to begin with. But I digress…

After dinner, my friend and I found our way to a beach-front café. We both leaned back on our red salty couch with our glasses of wine, and relaxed. How amazing that we found our way to the port of Tel Aviv, with waves splashing on the broad wooden patio in front of us. We laughed as we watched children splashing in the sea spray despite the late hours, and young women in nighttime attire getting their too high heels stuck in the deck slats.

My friend patiently listened to my excited chatter about studying Hebrew, being back in Tel Aviv, and living in Israel. As I slowed my speech to sip my wine, she looked up at me and, perhaps unknowingly, said some profound and potentially prophetic words about my life:

“I think you have just made aliyah and don’t know it yet.”

We will see, in time, if she is right. Regardless of this particular outcome, her words struck a chord in me. My love for this place, for Israel, a place I so personally and passionately consider my home, is apparently just as tangibly visible to others as it is intimately known to me.

I walked her back to her room and easily caught a sherut back to my room, feeling like I belonged.

Too Much Talk - 06.29.11

For all those that know me, my love of talking is clearly apparent. I love to talk and laugh and otherwise discuss matters ranging from those of little significance to those of extreme importance. However, over the years, I like to think that I have become slightly less defensive, less loud, and a bit better at listening too.

Being in a perpetual state of travel and tourism these days has resulted in many, shall we say…interesting conversations with individuals; many of whom I may not necessarily agree with. Recently I got sucked into a conversation with someone passionate about their ideals, but also rigid in their view of right and wrong, and how things should be in general. Strong words such as stupid, wrong, and ignorant were used over and over again. I found myself so tired from trying to politely interject, ask steering questions, and to share a differing point of view in a constructive manner. During the conversation I tried to remain genuine, I shared personal stories about my life, my experiences, and specifically my relation to Israel and Judaism. (For the record, this is a serious improvement from some of the screaming matches I engaged in growing up in conservative Texas.) I left the conversation pondering why people feel the need to fight extremism with extremism.

Afterward, I found myself on my computer re-reading (for perhaps the 20th time) a graduation speech given by author David Foster Wallace, which discusses, quite beautifully, the choices we have in life. I read the familiar words, skipping ahead to the final paragraphs, and felt their weight slide down inside of me, physically calming my nerves and easing tension on my spirit. I felt myself take a deep breath that perhaps I didn’t realize I’d been holding. I am reminded today, again, of the power of words, and of the importance of balance. I am grateful for the reminder to choose to live this life well.

How Bizarre, How Bizarre – 06.28.11

Today, during a journey to Haifa to visit the University, I had to wait about 30 minutes for my bus to arrive. I pulled out my trusty Kindle and soaked myself in a story, but was strangely interrupted when I heard the blaring sound of 80’s American music coming towards me. I looked up to see a rather normal-looking young lady pushing a shopping cart through the indoor bus station.

A little weird.

The only thing in her cart was an old-school boom box, which was blasting the tunes.

A bit stranger.

She calmly walked right past me, down the long hallway, and right into the women’s restroom.

Really weird.

She hadn’t exited when I got onto my bus 20 minutes later. The lady was pretty perplexing, but perhaps more so was the total lack of response from the people around me. I may have been the only one who even looked up! At least life is super entertaining, even if totally bizarre.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pigeon Pee - 06.27.11

Today I finally went to the beach. When I woke this morning I literally had no other objective than to go to the beach in Tel Aviv, indulge in reading my trashy murder mystery novel, and start my summer tan. Over the past year, as I have layered clothes to brave the San Francisco evening chill, or knitted scarves that I know will get far too much use, I have often closed my eyes and dreamed of the Tel Aviv beach. Imagine soft sandy shores filled with people laughing, eating, playing, and swimming. Loud Israeli music and classic American songs from the 90’s pour out of every beachy storefront. Envision the gazebos providing shelter and shade, and a wide promenade filled with bicycles, tourists, and restaurants offering cold Gold Star (Israeli beer) and fresh fruit smoothies. I have savored these visions in so many cold and frustrating times and places. Today was my day to enjoy it all.

I put on my new bathing suit, layered on the sunscreen, grabbed my Kindle, hat, and sunglasses, and set out to the beach with a smile. Ten minutes later I found myself comfortably sprawled under one of my mentally-pictured gazebos, perfectly half in the shade and half in the sun, with my Kindle clicked on and open to the tenth (yes, the tenth!) book in the Women’s Murder Mystery Club series. Ahhhh…ideal, fantastic, soul-fulfilling beach day….I am your beloved and you are mine!

I wish I could finish the story there, with me sunning on the beach and you smiling at the thought of such bliss, but we both know that’s not possible. Less than a page into my drama-driven San Francisco based novel, a sneaky, dirty, little pigeon that was suspiciously eyeing me from my blessed gazebo swooped down and pooped all over me!! In utter disgust I pulled off my hat and my shirt, and began frantically wiping pigeon poop from…well, everything. In ruined misery I decided the universe had declared my beach day privileges revoked, and hastily packed up my belongings, threw my pigeon-poop-hair into a rather un-stylish ponytail, and stormed down the street away from the beach. As I was approaching a street crossing a couple of blocks from the beach, a man started running towards me frantically screaming, in English, “wait, WAIT!!” Assuming I was about to be hit by one of the crazy speeding Israeli bus drivers, I stepped back from the curb and turned my attention towards the man. As he approached me, out of breath, he looked up and said in a strong Israeli accent, “You are so beautiful. Can I take your picture, please?”


Sometimes I just don’t even know what to say during the situations I encounter in Israel; however, this was not one of those times. I looked him in the eye, probably with poop still dripping down from my hair, and yelled, “No, no, NO!!”

I then continued my dramatic storming down the street, despite the death-provoking heat, until I reached my room. I showered, and only found content when I got comfortable on the couch, directly in front of the A/C, and read my murderous romance chick book until I fell fast asleep for my new ritual afternoon nap.

In re-telling this story to Israeli friends, I learned that being pooped on by a pigeon is supposed to be good luck, but unfortunately, being harassed by weird Israeli men is just irritating.

Here’s to visions that don’t turn out quite as we expected, but that turn out funny anyway! I’m still waiting on that good luck to come my way…I like it when the universe owes me one :)

Relativity - 06.26.11

Today I embarked on an epic journey (ok, mom, so it wasn’t really epic…how about ambitious??) to visit Ulpan Gordon – a Hebrew language school in Tel Aviv. Until today, I was completely convinced that this school was fabricated by a strange Israeli man who likes to play cruel jokes on American women. The reason for my speculation is based on my repeated attempts to contact this particular institution.

Being the diligent over-achiever that I am, over the past several months I have called the school, emailed the school, Googled the school, and employed various other helpful stalking techniques (mostly learned in my doctorate program when trying to solicit information from participants and committee members), yet never actual received a response.

Finally in Tel Aviv in-person, the school can hide from me no more! I looked up the address and using Google maps found that it was only 2 miles away from my hostel. No problem…or so I thought.

Now here is where the situation gets interesting. For starters, I do find it fascinating that in Israel I feel like walking two miles, one way, is no big deal. Never would I say to myself in San Francisco, “hmm…it will require four miles of walking to run this errand, but I’ll just get right on it!”

Second, Israel presents a strange issue of relativity for me. As most people who know me are aware, I broke my ankle very badly seven years ago and have had exactly six surgeries to repair it, the most recent of which was just this past October. However, as I was reminded immediately upon beginning my walk, in Israel, it doesn’t really matter if there is a 10% chance that during my four-mile walk I might fall down and break my ankle, because there is a 90% chance that I will die of heat stroke. And quite frankly, when every ounce of liquid in your body is sweating out of you and you can’t seem to drink fast enough to maintain equilibrium, and every few seconds you consider taking off all of your clothes and lying down to die next to a shady tree, you really don’t consider whether or not your ankle hurts.

My conclusion is that Tel Aviv in the summer is really good for my ankle, although perhaps not so great for my health overall.

Oh, back to the point for a minute - I survived the walk and did actually find the school! It is a real place and I survived all four miles, but I hear August is supposed to get even hotter…

Welcome to Israel - 06.24.11

I have done enough international travel at this point in my life to know that when you arrive in a country, you should really just stay awake until an appropriate time to go to bed, so that when you do finally lay down, sheer exhaustion will take over and you will sleep the whole night soundly and wake refreshed and accustomed to the local time zone.

As all my fellow travelers know, this rarely happens so simply, and has virtually no chance of happening if you arrive at your hotel at 3pm, take a shower, and promptly fall asleep for a 4-hour nap. Which is exactly what I did.

So I shouldn’t be surprised that on my very first night in Israel I found myself wandering in the lobby of my hostel at 4am, searching for a snack in my pajamas, ponytail, and glasses.

Luckily for me, Tel Aviv is a sleepless city, and even on erev Shabbat I quickly located an open convenience store. Shuffling across the street with my Bamba (favorite Israeli snack) and dark chocolate m & m’s tucked safely under my arm, I could not help but laugh at myself. As I waited to be buzzed back into the lobby of my hostel I stole a quick glance at the Mediterranean Sea; dark waves steadily rolling in to shore, a warm breeze wrapping around my bare legs. Back in my room, snacking away while watching the latest Harry Potter on my iPad, I smiled with the satisfaction that this is just the type of adventure I signed up for.

Brucha Haba’a to me…welcome to Israel.